Policies, silos limit interoperability
The majority of law enforcement agencies connect to the FBI to run fingerprints and in some cases with other local or state systems. But often these systems are not connected with neighboring states, says Robert Horton, senior director of marketing and communications at MorphoTrak.
FBI pushes biometric technology center
The FBI is partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense on a $164-million Biometrics Technology Center in Clarksburg. The 360,000 square foot facility is on track to be operational by fall of 2015.
“We have what we call a Biometric Center of Excellence, which is basically our umbrella program where we look at all the biometrics across the universe to see what technology, what applications are out there that we can use,” says Stephen Morris, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
The new facility will house research and development for the FBI and DoD, with room for other agencies to park employees as well.
“We’re trying to create a task force environment, and hopefully it’ll be one where it not only will harness what Defense and Justice are doing in biometrics, but be the focal point for biometrics in the whole U.S. government,” Morris says.
“People tend to focus on the potential abuse of these systems, but I would say just the opposite. They should take comfort in knowing that agencies are leveraging these technologies to rule out false positives,” he says.
The common misperception is that all criminal fingerprint systems are interconnected and can turn out a match in seconds, explains Horton.
But in reality, there is not just one AFIS. The FBI maintains one of the larger systems in the world, but states and local jurisdictions across the country and around the world have their own systems that they use for law enforcement, social services and other matters.
Unfortunately, the siloed AFIS do not automatically share data or searches with one and other.
There are a couple of issues that prevent searching across various AFIS, Horton explains. First, is the technical challenge that not all AFIS are interoperable. Standards do exist to help the systems interoperate, but unless jurisdictions use the proper, up-to-date specifications the systems won’t work together.
The second challenge is around policy, Horton says. Jurisdictions that want to share AFIS data need to have an agreement in place as to what information is shared, how long it is stored and other details. These can be difficult to negotiate so few states have these agreements in place.
‘WIN’ing in the west
There are exceptions.
Within the National Capital Region, Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md. share information between the individual AFIS. Another large consortium known as the Western Identification Network (WIN) sees eight states not only sharing information but also the cost of AFIS, says Kris Ranganath, director of technology and solution at AFIS provider NEC Corp. of America.
Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Washington, Nevada and Wyoming formed WIN in 1989, says Ken Bischoff, CEO at WIN. The previous year, California had deployed an AFIS and these states saw the success and wanted to follow suit.
At a meeting of the Western States Attorney Generals, a discussion resulted in the eight states pooling resources and forming WIN, Bischoff says. All eight states now share the cost of the NEC-supplied AFIS and are able to search records for possible suspects. The network has 25 million sets of prints and sends 6,000 transactions a day to the FBI.
Each state has its own AFIS server and is linked to WIN. Typically, the state jails have biometric scanners that capture the fingerprints, search the local AFIS and then send the prints up to WIN if a match isn’t found. The last search is the FBI’s system. “A rule of thumb is that 85% of crime scene latent prints hit on your own database,” Bischoff explains. “The ones you don’t have will hit on other databases.”
After receiving the images the state police runs the fingerprints through WIN and notifies the local officials if a match is made. If there isn’t a match the images are sent on to the FBI for comparison. “When the prints are good enough to hit or not hit they can get a result back within minutes but if it needs an operator verification it can take a little longer,” says Dawn Peck, manager in the Bureau of Criminal Identification for the Idaho State Police.
Eighty-five percent of state law enforcement agencies submit fingerprints and latents electronically for searching while the remaining send in ten-print cards with the inked images, she notes.
WIN and its member states are also adding other biometric modalities. Idaho has added palm prints to its database and is considering other additions. “We’re already getting hits from the palm print database,” Peck says.
WIN operates on the service bureau model, enabling states to benefit from the latest technology without the capital expenditure, Bischoff says. States pay a monthly fee to access the network.
Idaho didn’t have an AFIS before joining WIN and it likely would have been awhile before it could have afforded one. “This was the only cost effective way we could acquire the technology,” Peck says.
In 1989 the system would have been cost prohibitive and being able to write the technical specifications to procure the correct system would have been difficult, she explains. Even now, the staff to support and maintain the AFIS would be difficult to afford. “We would have to do with so much less if we tried to do it on our own,” she adds.
This type of service bureau model is catching on, says Ranganath. “The technology refresh happens automatically and the jurisdictions are always getting the latest technology without a capital expenditure,” he adds.
This enables the addition of other biometric modalities, says Ranganath. Facial recognition and iris are the two that many agencies are considering. “In major cities you see a lot of cameras that can help identify people,” he says. “Also if someone has been arrested we can match a mug shot to an individual.”
While cameras can capture facial images and fingers can leave latent prints behind, iris can’t do either, Ranganath says. But agencies are still capturing it as a way to quickly identify criminals if they have been arrested. The other trend in criminal identification is to take picture of tattoos and scars.